Paris has just announced an ambitious new push in its révolution numérique, the city’s plan to make itself into one of the world’s most wired capitals. At the moment, nothing says “wired” quite like “wireless,” so Paris plans on blanketing the city with a free WiFi network operated by private companies.
The socialist mayor of Paris (that’s not a perjorative statement; he’s actually a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party), Bertrand Delanoe, wants the system up and running by the end of next year. “We will act fast and firmly… to create the most favorable conditions for Paris,” he told reporters. “It is a decisive tool for international competition and thus important for the city.”
But free WiFi is hardly a “decisive tool for international competition.” After all, more than 60 percent of Parisian households already have high-speed ‘Net access and businesses aren’t likely to be excited by the prospect of trusting the company’s access to a sometimes-flaky wireless signal with all of its security woes. Some cities are also learning the hard way that reliable WiFi is easier dreamed up than implemented. Still, the system promises Internet access in public places like parks and libraries, and it’s hard to imagine anything better than reading Ars from a bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg on a fine spring day.
What’s more intriguing than the WiFi announcement is the second part of the plan, which is designed to ensure that 80 percent of Parisian addresses are wired with fiber by 2010. The ambitious goal will be aided by a government tax cut on companies that lay fiber over and through city-owned rights-of-way (think sewers). The resulting system should deliver super-fast ‘Net connections to citizens and businesses across the City of Lights.
The city also plans to open Espaces publics Numériques in many arrondissements that will allow people to use computers and take classes on computing and Internet technology. The goal is to make Paris one of the top digital cities on earth in the next decade, a move that could help the city stay competitive in the global labor market.
Paris isn’t alone in its ambitions. It faces competition from most major cities, including London, San Francisco, Chicago, and others, though most cities have so far only announced plans for WiFi. Paris’ aggressive fiber rollout plans could give it an edge, potentially making the “Socialist City” one of the best places in Europe to do high-tech business.